Friday, March 27, 2009

Lasagne: Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge

HAPPY SPRING! For the March 2009 challenge, our fearless fellow members decide to turn our weak and nimble arms into strong, stocky pasta making machines! This month our challenge was to make lasagna, from scratch… Yes, that means the noodles, as well. I actually had a friend, whom I love to death :-), ask “can you even make lasagna noodles from scratch?” I was tickled and had to remind her that there was a time in history with the pasta sheeter attachment to the kitchen aid did not exist!

But this challenge was no typical American style fair. Oh no…It was so much better! Hi, My name is Rysheda and I am a former over abuser of Ricotta cheese in lasagna. But, I vow never to use that clumpy cheese again. As one of our challenge leaders stated, “the dish should always be a vivid expression of the ‘less-is-more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of b├ęchamel sauce and ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats (ewww!), vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavors. The results are splendid.” I could not agree more and my former unsophisticated palette has forever been changed by the sheer cream goodness of a Bechamel sauce!

My Lasange contains the following ingredients and were layers in this order:
- Spinach Egg Pasta Sheets
- Basil Pesto
- Bechamel Cream Sauce
- Vegetarian Ground “Turkey” Ragu
- Parmigiano-Reggiano

Spinach Egg Pasta
3 large eggs
4 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1 & 3/4 cups all purpose unbleached flour

Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

Knead the dough until it becomes a cohesive mass. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Separate the dough into four parts. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As you roll it out keep the dough even and roll it out as thin as possible. The goal is to be able to see the color of your hand through the dough (though mine was definitely not that thin).

Cut the dough into long rectangular sheets and hang over a wooden dowel to dry (or to get counter space for the next roll out).

Basil Pesto
Sorry, I did not measure. Place about 1/3 cup pine nuts, 3 cups fresh basil, and 3-4 tbs olive oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached flour
2 & 2/3 cups skim milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Vegetarian Ground “Turkey” Ragu
1 package Vegetarian Ground “Turkey”
1 can Sliced Stewed Tomatoes
Dried Italian Seasoning, to taste
Garlic Powder, to taste
Dried Sage, to taste

Brown the vegetarian ground “turkey” over medium heat, in a pan sprayed with a non-stick spray. Once brown, add the stewed tomatoes and turn the mixture down to low until it comes to a simmer. Once simmering, add the seasonings to taste. Let the sauce simmer on low for 20-30 minutes a it marries the flavors together and thickens slightly.

Assemble the components in the order above. State with a little Bechamel sauce on the bottom of the dish. Finish the top of the dish with an additional layer of pasta, then Bechamel sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the over for an hour at 375F. Then remove the foil and allow the top to brown.

Let rest for a few minutes and then enjoy the fruit of your labor!
The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.